What is an ALTA Survey?

By:Triad Engineering

What is an ALTA Survey?

An “ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey” (or simply, “an ALTA survey”) is a term that is commonly used in the realms of civil engineering and real estate. The term refers to a specialized type of survey of real property, with specifications that have been defined jointly by the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors. ALTA surveys are performed mostly for commercial properties where title insurance is required. This type of survey typically addresses detailed information regarding property boundaries, easements and encumbrances, encroachments or evidence of use by other parties, rights-of-way and access, onsite cemeteries, existing structures, and the record description of the property, as well as optional items that may be specified by the client, such as zoning classifications, flood zone classifications, or topographic relief.

Because an ALTA survey involves elements that are not usually addressed by a standard boundary survey, a title commitment document or title report is required to complete the work. Land surveyors work closely with title companies to ensure that all information is accurate and provides a comprehensive view of the property in question.

An ALTA survey combines data from property records with onsite surveying measurements to fulfill the needs of title companies or insurers. While an ALTA survey isn’t required for every property acquisition, it can represent one of the most exhaustive types of surveys that are available to a client. Due to the additional effort required to complete all the components of an ALTA survey, the cost is generally higher than for a standard boundary survey. The following list highlights some of the steps involved in this type of survey work:

  • Land records related to the subject property are carefully researched, typically by the client’s attorney or title agent.
  • The attorney or title agent prepares a title commitment or title report that lists all encumbrances or appurtenances of record that appear to affect the subject property. This title commitment or report is then provided to the land surveyor along with copies of all the record documents.
  • The survey field personnel collect data at the subject property regarding boundaries and other relevant features.
  • The surveyor analyzes the field data in conjunction with a careful review of the information provided in the title commitment or report and associated documents.
  • The surveyor prepares a plat or map of the survey that addresses the various potential title items that were identified by the title commitment or report.
  • A draft of the plat is provided for review and comment to the client, the title company, and any other interested parties.
  • Upon acceptance of the plat by the interested parties, the surveyor signs and seals the plat, providing certification that it is accurate to the best of the surveyor’s knowledge.

Although an ALTA survey is not necessary for every transaction involving real estate, there are situations that call for additional effort and expense. This type of survey is often recommended under the following circumstances:

  • Buying or selling Commercial Real Estate – When a parcel of commercial property is mortgaged or transferred, title insurance companies and/or lenders often require an ALTA survey to be completed. This is because commercial purchases frequently come with “survey risks,” such as boundary line disputes, encroachments, or other conditions that may not be discernible from the public records.
  • Buying a piece of Vacant Land – An ALTA survey may be advisable to determine whether there are boundary, ownership, or encroachment issues that may not be otherwise apparent at the time of purchase, but which could become a nasty surprise at a later date.
  • Resolving a Property Dispute – In instances such as right-of-access or boundary line disputes between adjoining landowners, an ALTA survey can ascertain critical facts that will equip litigation professionals with the material information needed to best advise their clients.

Triad Engineering has performed many ALTA surveys for commercial and industrial clients. If you would like more information regarding ALTA surveys, or if you would like to discuss whether an ALTA survey might be appropriate for your project, please contact our office in Morgantown, West Virginia, at 304-296-2562.


Sources: Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys (Effective February 23, 2021). https://www.nsps.us.com/page/2021ALTA